Veterans are trained in elite leadership courses. They’re battle-tested and have proven themselves capable of accomplishing difficult tasks both state-side and at war. Military professionals have a lot to offer your organization when they hang up the uniform.
Yet, approximately half of all veterans struggle to find work in their desired field after they’ve completed their service, according to the 2018 Veterans Well-Being Survey. Only 17 percent of employers surveyed said they viewed vets as strategic assets.
The good news is that, despite any initial challenges to entering the workforce, veterans and civilians ages 25 to 54 (considered prime working ages), have a nearly identical employment rate: 79.5% for veterans and 79.7% of non-veterans. However, there are notable differences in the work each group does and what industries they do it in.
My Post-Military Transition
I know from personal experience that the transition from military to civilian life presents certain challenges. For one thing, there’s a very real language barrier. When I first left the military, I took my latest and greatest Enlisted Performance Report (EPR) bullets and dropped them into my resume. It was riddled with military jargon, including a long list of occupational specialties and skills that no one outside the Air Force could be expected to understand. I had to review my list of duties and accomplishments, and then translate my military experiences into terms that showed the value I could offer a civilian employer.
Once I had my civilian resume in hand, I found that I also had to contend with a fairly common bias: “military-friendly” employers who segregate career paths based on whether a candidate was an enlisted or a commissioned officer. I had enlisted in the Air Force with a high school diploma, which made me a low grade “Airman Basic.” Even though I later earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, I discovered when transitioning to corporate America that this detail of rank can relegate veterans like me to hourly positions that don’t provide a leadership track.
Look Beyond Rank
Veterans are far more likely to work in blue-collar jobs and are less likely to work in professional occupations than their non-veteran counterparts. This could be due to a hiring process that employs—consciously or not—an enlisted vs. commissioned officer bias. Some corporations who do hire veterans require four years of commissioned service to qualify for management positions, which eliminates enlisted veterans from the hiring pool.
Be sure to look beyond a candidate’s rank, and take the time to ask about their skills, experience, and outlook. While an individual’s rank certainly has meaning and practical application in the military, it shouldn’t define or limit their opportunities once they’ve transitioned to civilian life.
What Veterans Can Do for Your Company
For a fresh perspective on some key strengths military service veterans can bring to the workplace, we spoke with Jon Rhone, former Air Force commander and founder of Rhone Coaching and Consulting Group. Here are four critical skills veterans possess that Rhone identified as especially valuable for companies looking for leaders and managers:
1. Strong Analytical Skills
Most military tasks require a service member to complete a written debrief or report. Whatever you call it, veterans are trained to offer detailed analysis of events and projects; not just to rehash what happened but to determine root causes of why something went wrong. And they aren’t just problem identifiers; veterans will make it their business to present potential solutions. They’ll also cultivate the good by being able to identify what went right and making sure good results can be reproduced.
2. Peer Leadership
Veterans are extremely adept at leading teams of people that are either close to or of their same rank. That’s tough to do and can be a difficult skill to teach a non-veteran. Service members face, and rise to, this particular challenge throughout their military careers, so they have the level of finesse it takes to be a leader at any level in your company.
No veteran expects to know everything the minute they walk into an organization. They’ve learned self-discipline, and they’ve also been taught how to take initiative, never give up, and always find a way. They don’t fear challenges, and they are willing to put in the hard work to improve their ability to help their team. Veterans also don’t expect a lot of fanfare for their accomplishments; they simply want to contribute and be respectfully recognized for their contributions to a team’s success. Veterans understand that actions speak louder than words.
4. Collaborative Teamwork
Working on a team can be challenging, but more so if you don’t know where you are headed. Thanks to their training and real-world experience, veterans are often particularly adept at defining and communicating objectives and goals. Couple that with their ability to communicate with diverse teams, and employers can expect their veteran employees to be strong managers. Military professionals have experience building collaborative relationships—sometimes their lives depended on it. They’ve absorbed a strong sense of service through principles such as “service before self and excellence in all we do,” which is part of the Air Force Core Values. Service members understand how to apply the strengths to bring about results that will have the greatest impact on the greater mission.
It’s clear that military veterans have a great deal of experience that can apply to all kinds of civilian professional situations. Employers should take the time to see veterans for who they are: exceptional people who’ve earned and learned some remarkable skills through extraordinary circumstances, and who now aspire to bring those skills to your workplace.
For corporations and non-profit organizations looking to increase their pool of veteran job applicants, we’ve got some helpful resources.
- Hiring Our Heroes: Vet Employer Roadmap – U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- Hire a Vet – Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor
- Supporting Veterans Transition to Civilian Work – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Amanda Rebuck is an enlisted Air Force veteran with experience in Command and Control Battle Management Operations. After sustaining a service-ending injury, she became a writer and content specialist. Since leaving the military, Amanda has worked in various industries, including information technology, e-commerce, and finance, as well as staffing and recruiting.